Lightning strikes for NZ women entrepreneurs

A group of women entrepreneurs are supercharging their business ambitions with New Zealand’s first accelerator program for start-ups led by women.

Lightning Lab XX has a vision to put ambitious female start-up founders in the fast lane to growth, by helping them turn their ideas into investable companies with global potential. The program recently brought nine start-ups together for an intensive 14-week stint in Wellington, with support from some of the country’s best business minds.

"We believe diverse teams create stronger companies."
Laura Reitel, Lightning Lab XX Program Director

Lightning Lab XX | Highlights from Demo Day

The Lightning Lab is the only New Zealand member of the Global Accelerator Network, an invite-only community of the world’s most respected organisations that provide start-ups with the resources to create and grow their businesses. As such, it maintains the highest standards with content based on the best practices from around the world.


The Lightning Lab XX program was set up to help tackle a lack of women starting businesses. Across the first five Lightning Lab programs, only 12 per cent of founders were women – while international reports suggest women make up just 6 per cent of business founders worldwide.

This is despite the fact that start-ups with a woman on the founding team perform on average 63 per cent better than investments with all-male founding teams, according to analysis by First Round capital.

Laura Reitel, Lightning Lab XX’s Programme Director, says this and other research suggests diverse businesses perform better and deliver higher returns.

“We believe diverse teams create stronger companies and we want to help bring more gender balance into the business community,” she says.

“We’re excited to be creating a more diverse business ecosystem for New Zealand, to encourage more creative thinking, richer discussions and, ultimately, a more productive entrepreneurial environment.

“We can only achieve this through openness and inclusiveness, and we’re delighted by the quality, commitment and ambition of the women who have put themselves forward for Lightning Lab XX.”


Lightning Lab XX gave the entrepreneurs access to 100 mentors and over 50 local and international speakers. After 100 days of programing, it showcased its nine women-led start-ups at a Demo Day. 

Hosted at a packed Embassy Theatre – known previously for showcasing NZ film talent with world premieres of Lord of the Rings films – the event saw founders pitching world class business propositions to a ‘Who’s Who’ of Wellington’s start up community: over 700 investors, mentors, alumni and supporters.

Around half of the teams were pitching for investment to fund their growth ambitions and the connections they gained have led to hundreds of thousands of dollars of commitments.

Some of the teams plan to fund their ventures in different ways – one has won a grant from government agency Callaghan Innovation, while several others have been able to self-fund thanks to the sales uplift from Demo Day.


John Bennett, Commercial & Agri Regional General Manager for ANZ (which sponsors Lightning Lab XX) supports the drive to diversity.

“As bankers, we often see entrepreneurs who have great ideas but lack connections or access to expertise, guidance or inspiration to realise their potential,” he says.

“By giving them access to a wide range of world-class business coaches, mentors and role models, this program provides the environment for women founders to rise through the challenges of starting a company then enables them to get it ready for investment quickly.”

Participant Mel Langlotz, of outdoor mixed reality firm Geo AR Games, says Lightning Lab is a very intense program that “teaches you the essentials of a mini MBA in three months using your own project.”

“This is not an incubator where you go in, cash in the money and do what you like,” she says.

“This is for people who are open to relearning how to do business and doing things in a new way, no matter how long they have been working on their idea for.”

Lightning Lab XX | Geo AR Games

Lightning Lab provided a bolt of inspiration for Virginia Fay’s venture, Patternsnap – a tool for accessing and searching fabric and wallpaper samples for interior design.

Patternsnap made the most of Lightning Lab’s mentors and connections and experienced substantial growth throughout the program.

“I think it’s incredible what Lightning Lab has done in creating this accelerator specifically for female founders,” Fay says.

“I think it’s going to empower and inspire a whole generation of women to basically feel the fear and do it anyway – and become founders.”

Lightning Lab XX | Patternsnap

Sue McCabe, Chief Executive of the National Council of Women New Zealand and a Lightning Lab XX mentor, sees the program as an integral part of the business landscape.

“As a passionate advocate for women, community and work equality, I feel Lightning Lab XX is coming to stay,” she says. “We need a deliberate, proactive approach to getting more women in the founder’s seat and this program does exactly that.”

Pete Barnao is a contributing editor at BlueNotes

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

editor's picks

27 Sep 2016

From mutton to lamb: the outlook to 2040

Mark Bennett | Head of Aus Agribusiness, ANZ

It would be an understatement to say the Australian sheep industry has been through some tough times since the 1990s. Today, the sector is back on its feet and times ahead look even better, with a new report forecasting a surge in demand for lamb over the coming decades.

13 Sep 2016

In vino veritas (and profits) in NZ

Con Williams | Rural Economist NZ, ANZ

Is there further upside for New Zealand’s booming wine sector? The answer is yes. An export industry which has experienced strong growth in recent years, NZ viticulture has played an important role in providing a new source of grow for the country’s agribusiness sector.

06 Sep 2016

VIDEO: what’s next for wearables? Nobody knows

Felicia Trewin | Head of Strategy & Business Optimisation, ANZ

Successful venture capitalist Brad Feld has no idea where wearable tech will go in the future and genuinely does not care. To him, what is more interesting is how tech develops - and it’s rarely in the linear manner everyone likes to think.